Inbox and Environment News: Issue 259 

 April 10 - 23 2016: Issue 259

Pittwater's Environment:

Barrenjoey Headland Slated To Be Changed for Accommodation and Conferences Again(March2016):Public to Be Excluded From Keepers, Boatmans and Fishers Cottages and Areas Around These

Barrenjoey Head historic buildings use

The concept plans illustrate options for the adaptive re-use of the historic buildings within the Barrenjoey Head precinct and the provision of toilets for the estimated 200,000 annual visitors to the headland.  The proposals are consistent with the Barrenjoey Headland Conservation Management Plan and the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park Plan of Management.  The headland is listed on the NSW State Heritage Register.

The buildings considered for adaptive re-use are:

The Head and Assistant Lightkeepers’ cottages

The Boatman’s Cottage and Red Boat Shed

The two former fishermens’ cottages.

Feedback provided during the exhibition will be considered prior to finalising the concept plans and submitting a Section 60 Application to the Heritage Council of NSW for approval to carry out an activity to an item or land listed on the State Heritage Register.

Have your say

Submit your feedback on the concept plans by Friday 20 April 2016via online consultation or

Historic Legal Battle Begins Over CSG Waste: People vs Santos

April 06, 2016 by Lock The Gate

An historic court battle will commence in the NSW Land and Environment today, Wednesday 6 April, as the first ever legal challenge against a CSG waste project gets underway.

The Court will be hearing a challenge against construction of the controversial Phase 2 of the Leewood CSG waste water treatment plant near Narrabri. Local Narrabri community group ‘People for the Plains’ has taken legal action against Santos and the NSW Government over the approval of the industrial facility, and have travelled to Sydney for the hearing.

Local Narrabri residents will gather outside the Land and Environment Court in Sydney with supporters from 9am, Wednesday 6th April.

People for the Plains will argue that Santos must obtain development consent because the intensity and scale of this industrial development is not something that can simply be classified as CSG exploration.

The Leewood Phase 2 water treatment plant will involve:

• The treatment of up to 1.5 million litres of toxic, salty waste water each day, which has been extracted from the coal seams

• The production of 500 million litres of concentrated brine by the end of the project, requiring dewatering, transportation and disposal of thousands of tonnes of salt.

• A commercial irrigation project using treated wastewater

An initial review of the Santos Leewood proposal by the Department of Primary Industries assessed the project as a "high risk of having significant adverse impacts and the potential loss of the agricultural capacity of the lands affected by the proposal” and stated that the "soils are highly sodic and currently unsuitable for irrigation and unlikely to be remediated"[1].

Construction on the facility began in December 2015 after approval was granted in August of 2015. A photo archive of CSG activities in the Pilliga is available here and aerial photos of CSG wastewater being held at Leewood awaiting treatment and disposal are availablehere.

Sally Hunter of People for the Plains said that “The risks of storing and then irrigating these vast amounts of CSG waste on farmland in our region are severe.

“Salt is the enemy of agriculture and Santos’ plans are a major risk to our vulnerable soils which do not tolerate salt, and should not have to tolerate irrigation with Santos’ treated waste water.

“These types of large, risky waste projects should not be approved without a full and thorough Environmental Impact Statement nor without extensive public consultation. However, that is exactly what has happened here. 

“The Baird Government is allowing Santos to roll out its CSG plans without thorough environmental assessment and without giving us, the local community, the opportunity to have our serious concerns heard.

“Every exploration CSG well, wastewater dam or treatment plant that gets approval without a development consent or a proper environmental assessment is doing incremental damage to our local environment and we are hoping that this court case will put a stop to that” she said.

Naomi Hodgson from The Wilderness Society said: “Santos has stated that it has put the project on the go-slow after it devalued the project and downgraded the gas reserves, yet they keep putting our water and soil at risk through industrial activities like the Leewood treatment plant.

‘The project has no social licence and is not financially viable. Santos must stop the destruction of the Pilliga forest and the risks to the critical water resources of the Great Artesian Basin that lies beneath it, and walk away” she said.

If People for the Plains is successful, Santos will be required to stop the construction and operation of Leewood. It is then up to Santos to decide whether to carry on trying to build the Leewood Plant.

If it decides to carry on it would need to follow the law, apply for development consent and prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement that would be placed on public exhibition, allowing public participation and greater transparency.

[1] DPI Comments on Leewood Phase 2, 29th April 2015 

In Text photo courtesy Lock the Gate, Taken 6/3/2016

Court to decide if Santos Pilliga CSG facility illegal Adjourned

Pilliga Court Update 6 April 2016 – EDO

People For The Plains hearing commenced this morning but was adjourned until 17 and 18 May. The adjournment is to allow the parties more time to prepare the case for the Court.

5 April 2015

On Wednesday, a court case begins that could see a halt to the development and operation of Santos’ CSG water treatment facility near the Pilliga State Forest, an internationally renowned ecosystem near Narrabri in North-West NSW.

People for the Plains, a community group from the Pilliga, represented by public interest environmental lawyers EDO NSW, is taking CSG company Santos to court over its ‘Leewood’ CSG wastewater treatment facility. People for the Plains will argue that Santos’ construction of the facility, which will process millions of litres of CSG water, is unlawful.

EDO NSW CEO and Principal Solicitor Sue Higginson says, “The Leewood facility was assessed and approved as a CSG exploration activity. Our client contends that this was incorrect. Instead, the facility should have been subject to the development assessment process under the NSW planning system. In this way, Santos would have been required to prepare a full environmental impact statement, which would have been placed on public exhibition to allow the community the opportunity to scrutinise the proposal and its impacts.”

“Environmental protection and the preservation of the rights of the community are contingent on applying and following the environmental planning laws correctly.”

“Our client is concerned that industrial scale CSG operations are incrementally rolling out across the Pilliga region as exploration activities without the community having a say, and without adequate environmental assessment or safeguards.”

The Pilliga is the largest unfragmented block of temperate dry forest in eastern Australia. It also acts as a significant recharge area for the Great Artesian Basin, one of Australia’s most important ground water resources.

The case will run for two days in the NSW Land and Environment Court. More background on this case can be found at the EDO NSW website.

EPA finds no evidence of produced water leaks into the environment from Santos’ Leewood Water Treatment Facility

Media release: 7 April 2016 - EPA

An inspection by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) on 11 March 2016 has confirmed that the double-liner pond leak detection system at Santos’ Leewood Water Treatment Facility is working as intended with no evidence of leaks into the environment.

During the inspection, EPA officers found that the secondary liner of Leewood Pond Cell 4 had captured produced water which had activated Santos’ leak detection system. The source of the water appears to be two small defects in the primary liner.

To allow for a thorough assessment of the pond and for the liner to be repaired, Cell 4 has been drained. Produced water in Cell 4 was transferred to the other three cells.

EPA Director North Branch Gary Davey said that Santos must operate Leewood in accordance with strict procedures outlined in its planning approval and its environment protection licence.

“The double liner pond leak detection system at Leewood follows best practice put in place by the NSW Government in 2015. Our enquiries indicate that the pond liners are currently working as designed, with no evidence of produced water reaching the environment.” Mr Davey said.

Mr Davey said that an independent third party consultant has been engaged by Santos to conduct a technical assessment of the pond.

“The EPA will inspect the site and verify the liner has been repaired prior to the produced water being pumped back into the pond,” Mr Davey said.

Link to statement from 15 March 2016

EPA issues Penalty Notice to Quarry Solutions at Valla

Media release: 5 April 2016

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has issued an $8,000 fine to Quarry Solutions for certifying as correct statements in an Annual Return that were false and misleading.

 EPA Manager North Coast Region, Brett Nudd, said “Quarry Solutions Pty Ltd, which operates Valla Quarry, certified in the Annual Return for the quarry that all conditions of the licence had been complied with during the reporting period for 2014-2015. 

 However, the EPA’s official records showed that the company had conducted activities outside the approved operating hours on one occasion during this reporting period. The EPA had issued a Formal Warning for this non-compliance.”

 The company was aware of this non-compliance and this should have been reflected in the company’s annual return.” 

 Mr Nudd said “All holders of environment protection licences issued by the EPA are required to submit annual returns. Annual Returns form a critical element of the EPA’s licensing system”.

 In the Annual Return operators are required to sign a statement of compliance, confirming whether or not they have complied with the licence conditions. The operators are required to provide details of any non-compliances.

 The Annual Return must also detail the results of environmental monitoring, which is undertaken by the operator.

 “The EPA views providing false or misleading statements in an Annual Return as a very serious issue. Accurate reporting and disclosure of non-compliances is a critical element that underpins the integrity of the EPA’s licensing system.”

 Under environment protection legislation, it an offence for a person to provide a false or misleading statement in an Annual Return.

 “The EPA’s investigations also revealed that the company had exceeded the annual extraction limit permitted by the licence. The licensee was issued with an Official Caution for this second offence”, Mr Nudd added.

 In order to protect local communities and the environment, and to provide a level playing field for operators, it is critical that these limits are complied with.

 Mr Nudd noted that the EPA is actively monitoring the volume of material being extracted by licensed quarries and encouraged quarry operators to closely monitor the volumes they are extracting to ensure that the remain in compliance with their licence conditions.

 Penalty notices and official cautions are just one of a number of tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance. Other options include formal warnings, licence conditions, notices and directions, mandatory audits, enforceable undertakings, legally binding pollution reduction programs and prosecutions.

 For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy at:

 If anyone wants to report an incident of air, noise or water pollution, they should contact the EPA’s Environment Line on 131 555.The Environment Line operates 24 hours per day, seven days per week.


EPA issues two penalty notices to Pasminco Cockle Creek Smelter

Media release: 5 April 2016

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has issued two penalty notices to Pasminco Cockle Creek Smelter Pty Ltd for breaching the conditions of its Environment Protection Licence.

EPA Hunter Manager, Adam Gilligan, said that Pasminco failed to monitor water discharged from its premises and also failed to publish monitoring data on its website.

An investigation by the EPA found that Pasminco had siphoned water from the upslope gully dam and discharged it from the premises between 16 October 2015 and 21 October 2015,” Mr Gilligan said.

Because Pasminco failed to monitor that discharge for metals and total suspended solids—as required by its environment protection licence—the EPA has issued a $15 000 penalty notice to the company.

In a review of Pasminco’s website, the EPA identified that Pasminco had also failed to publish monitoring data on its website and was therefore fined $1 000.

“The EPA requires all holders of environment protection licences to publish monitoring data on their website within 14 days of receiving that data,” Mr Gilligan said.

“The community has a right to know what is happening in their backyard and it’s important that they have access to current and regular updates of monitoring data. We expect all licence holders to comply with these conditions.”

Penalty notices are just one of a number of tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance, including formal warnings, licence conditions, notices and directions, mandatory audits, enforceable undertakings, legally binding pollution reduction programs and prosecutions.

The EPA will continue to work with Pasminco to achieve environmental compliance during the remediation and redevelopment of the Cockle Creek site.  

For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy at:

Carmichael coal mine approved on Sunday April 3rd, 2016

The Queensland Government has approved the mining leases for Adani’s Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin. The announcement was made in despite the reports of the worst coral bleaching event in the Great Barrier Reef’s history lately pubslihed everywhere (see this week's reports on this below).

Fight for the Reef stated after the announcement, “We know that the Carmichael mine will result in up to 60 million tonnes of coal being mined and burnt every year for at least 60 years, warming the planet and adding even more pressure to our precious Reef.”

The Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) people,  the Traditional Owners and Native Title Applicants of a vast area of land in central-western Queensland, issued the following later that same Sunday:

QLD Mines Minister Lynham’s Adani mine approval shows gutless and morally bankrupt approach of Government to Traditional Owners’ rights


Minister prefers Adani’s misleading and inflated jobs figures to respect for the law and human rights, say Wangan and Jagalingou people

The Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) people today responded to the announcement by QLD Mines Minister Anthony Lynham that he is issuing mining leases to Adani for the Carmichael coal mine. The coal mine is the biggest proposed in Australian history and if built will permanently destroy the W&J’s vast traditional homelands in the Galilee Basin.

W&J spokesperson and traditional owner Adrian Burragubba said, “This is a disgraceful new low in the exercise of Government power at the expense of Traditional Owners’ rights. Minister Lynham and Premier Palaszczuk should hang their heads in shame. History will condemn them. This is the wrong mine, at the wrong time, on the wrong side of history. Their actions are reckless and dishonourable.

“In October 2015 Minister Lynham confirmed in a letter to our legal counsel that he would await the outcome of our Federal Court action against the mine before considering issuing the leases. Late last year and again this year he said he would wait for the matters before the courts to be resolved so as not to run the risk of having his decision invalidated.”

Mr Burragubba’s legal representative and human rights lawyer, Benedict Coyne of law firm Boe Williams Anderson, said: “The granting of these leases by the Minister is a concern given that there is a judicial review proceeding for a related matter pending before the Federal Court of Australia. It is curious as to why the Minister was unable to wait for the proper legal processes to be concluded. We will be seeking a statement of reasons for the decision from the Minister and from there we will consider our client’s legal options”.

Mr Burragubba said, “Now, after being stitched up in the Qld Parliament by the LNP, and caving to pressure from foreign coal billionaire Adani and the coal lobby, the Minister has trashed our rights and pushed the leases out the door in one of the worst acts of bad faith towards Queensland’s Indigenous people in living memory”.

“For the third time, on 19 March this year, the W&J claim group met en masse and voted down the prospect of an indigenous land use agreement with Adani. We said it again, and we said it loud and clear: Wangan and Jagalingou do not consent to this mine and we never will.

Mr Burragubba said: “Our resolve is doubled. Minister Lynham can issue all the bits of paper he likes, hide behind false claims of jobs and benefits, and pander to big coal for an unviable project. These leases are issued by a Government that regards our people’s rights as expendable. We will not stand by while the Minister forces our people to give up our rights and heritage in our ancestral lands – and exposes the public to the massive risks this mine poses to land, water, to endangered plants and animals, and to a safe climate – just to appease industry lobbyists and political opponents.”

“This is a shameful day”, Mr Burragubba concluded. “This act of infamy will be challenged all the way to the High Court if necessary, and we will continue to pursue our rights under international law. The Minister may think this is the end of the matter, but for us it is just another chapter in the long struggle we have to get proper respect and protection for our rights under law, and ensure our sacred homelands are preserved for time immemorial.”

Great Barrier Reef pollution controls ‘not sufficient’ according to leading scientists

03 April 2016: Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS)

Plans for improving water quality on the Great Barrier Reef will not meet their intended targets, according to a paper published today in Global Change Biology. New agricultural products and land uses, and the restoration of coastal rivers and wetlands to improve the ability of catchments to absorb pollutants before they reach the reef, are amongst options discussed in the paper.

Poor marine water quality - largely the result of excess sediment, nitrogen, phosphorus and pesticides flowing from the land into the GBR lagoon - has a significant impact on reef health, as lead author Dr Frederieke Kroon, from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), explains:

“Fine sediments reduce light availability for corals and seagrasses; nitrogen discharge promotes the growth of algae, which is associated with outbreaks of the coral-eating Crown-of-thorns starfish; and exposure to herbicides can reduce the productivity of seagrass in coastal and inshore meadows affecting dugong and turtle populations.”

Despite significant public investment to date, and more than ten years of dedicated plans to improve reef water quality, the authors note that recent Great Barrier Reef Report Cards demonstrate only modest changes in agricultural management practices – significant drivers of water quality in the rivers and coastal waters of the GBR.

“Water quality has been improved by voluntary actions of land holders and by industry-supported incentives to adopt agricultural best management practice,” says co-author Dr Britta Schaffelke. “Our review suggests that, based on overseas experiences, combining voluntary approaches with more effective legislation, regulation and assistance programs would accelerate the uptake of improved practices.”

“However, if we want to improve water quality enough to meet the intended targets, we will have to move beyond traditional agricultural systems. This may include new agricultural products and land uses, and the implementation of comprehensive programs to restore river flows, wetlands and riparian zones in coastal catchments”, says Dr Kroon.

The paper “Towards protecting the Great Barrier Reef from land-based pollution” by Frederieke Kroon, Peter Thorburn, Britta Schaffelke and Stuart Whitten appears in the journal Global Change Biology []

National Coral Taskforce unleashes an armada of experts

05 April: Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS)

After months of careful planning, 300 Australian coral reef researchers have launched a small flotilla of research vessels, each one filled to the gills with highly trained experts. Their tightly coordinated mission is a race against time – to document coral bleaching along the 1000km-long top half of the Great Barrier Reef before more of the heavily bleached corals die.

“So far we have collectively undertaken twelve separate missions using research vessels, and by the end of this month we will have examined close to 90 reefs that have also been surveyed from the air,” says Prof. Morgan Pratchett, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

“Unfortunately, our underwater surveys are also revealing very high levels of bleaching from Cairns to Torres Straits. Last week, our research divers found that 75% of the corals were bleached on multiple reefs near Port Douglas, and nearly 50% near Cairns. South of Cairns thankfully has closer to 10-30% bleaching”.

These amounts, measured and recorded by video underwater, match very closely with the broader aerial surveys of more than 750 reefs also being conducted by the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce.

Dr Neal Cantin, Research Scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, is surveying mildly bleached reefs this week, north of Townsville. “When bleaching is mild, the corals can regain their colour as water temperatures drop, and most of them will survive. Our coral experts have the skills to measure how different species are responding – some are susceptible and others are robust”.

But it’s a different story further north, where many reefs are heavily bleached.

“On reefs and sites around Lizard Island, bleaching has approached 80-100%, and many corals are already dying”, says Dr Anne Hoggett, co-Director of Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station said. “This is by far the worst bleaching crisis we’ve seen, eclipsing the 2002 event.”

The researchers have found a silver lining though. “The bleaching measured both from the air and from underwater is very patchy, with some reefs and portions of reefs escaping the worst impacts”, says Prof. Pratchett.

Research divers survey coral bleaching on a reef off of Port Douglas. ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies / Cassandra Thompson

Condition of Great Barrier Reef corals before the mass bleaching event in 2016

05 April 2016: Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS)

• In 2012, the Australian Institute of Marine Science reported thataverage coral cover on the GBR had fallen by half over the preceding 27 years. 

• Recent data collected by the AIMS Long Term Monitoring Program from 2012 – 2015 provide a more accurate reference point for understanding pre-bleaching conditions on the GBR.

• An updated analysis of the regional and Great Barrier Reef-wide trends shows that from 2012 to 2015 hard coral cover in the central and southern sections of the reef had increased (see Figure 1). In contrast, the northern section shows a decline in coral cover over these three recent years because of an intense cyclone (a second cyclone occurred after the most recent survey)  and renewed activity of crown-of-thorns starfish in the region. 

Figure 1: Temporal trends in coral cover (mean +/-95% confidence intervals) for the entire GBR and for the Northern, Central and Southern regions (see Figure 3 for boundaries of regions and sampling sites in 2013-15). N indicates the number of reefs contributing to the analyses. Hard coral cover was estimated using the manta towtechnique and trends in coral cover were modelled using logistic GAMMs incorporating cubic spline smoothers1for Year. (see Table 1 for a summary of selected data)

• With AIMS’ reef surveys extending over more than 30 years, the AIMS Long Term Monitoring Program provides an invaluable record of change in coral reef communities over a large area of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Several survey trips are completed each year and detailed reports on the condition and trends of individual reefs are available here. 

• This past week, field observations and aerial surveys reported severe coral bleaching from north of Cairns to Torres Strait, and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) lifted its response to “level 3” – GBRMPA’s highest level of bleaching incident response. Reef-wide surveys are underway right now with results expected over the next weeks. Recent observations of bleaching on the reefs further south indicate widespread bleaching of variable intensity, ranging mostly from minor to moderate. 

• While observations made from aerial and diver-based surveys indicate a clear north-south gradient in severity of bleaching, the situation changes almost on a daily basis as corals remain under stress from higher than normal water temperatures. With water temperatures forecast to remain warm for at least the month of April and corals already suffering from accumulated heat stress from the summer conditions, we will have to wait until later autumn to know the total mortality associated with the current bleaching event.

• While the Reef’s coral cover has improved in recent years, the widespread bleaching event will affect its condition. Not all corals that bleach will die, but even partially bleached corals have reduced reproduction and growth for up to two years, which is likely to slow or halt further recovery. 

• Especially in the Northern region, which up to 2012 was seen as the healthiest region, the significant loss of coral cover that occurred from 2012-15 is now compounded by the severe bleaching. In the Central and Southern regions, the prospects for ongoing recovery will depend on whether the bleaching will lead to significant coral mortality. 

• The decline of coral cover on the mid-shelf and offshore reefs from 1985 to 2012 was caused by thecumulative impacts of severe tropical cyclones, damage by the predatory crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) and the previous two mass bleaching events in 1998 and 2002. Additional environmental pressures such as reduced water quality and increased water temperatures further reduce reef resilience, i.e. all affecting the ability of coral reefs to recover from acute disturbance events such as such as cyclones and storms.

• There is a concern that the impact of severe disturbance events is increasing, which together with chronic pressures such as rising sea temperatures (Figure 2) will have negative implications for coral health. For example, a recent study predicted that extreme El Nino events, like the one associated with the 2016 bleaching event, may become more frequent in the future. 

Figure 2: Annual sea surface temperature anomalies (from the 1961-1990 mean) averaged for the Great Barrier Reef, 10.5-24.5S, 1871 to 2014. Data source: HadISST1 (Rayner et al 2003, J. Geophys. Res. 108, doi:10.1029/2002JD002670

Figure 3: Boundaries of Northern, Central and Southern regions used in the trend analyses (Fig 1), and locations of themanta tow surveys of hard coral cover in 2013-2015.

Table 1: Coral cover changes across the whole GBR, and northern, central and southern regions

Coral cover 2012 Coral cover 2015      3yr change (Gross) 3yr change  (%)

Whole GBR 16.6% 19.8% 3.2% increase     +19.3%

Northern GBR 24.4% 19.6% 4.8% decrease      -19.7%

Central GBR 14.0% 17.2% 3.2% increase      +22.9%

Southern GBR 14.4% 27.5% 13.1% increase      +90.1%

1Temporal trend estimates for 1986-2012 differ slightly from the trends published previously by De'ath et al. (2012) because of the addition of new data (an additional 25 reefs for the whole observation period, 3 new years and slightly different boundaries between regions) and the inevitable dampening of extremes from modelling approaches that utilise spline smoothing functions.

Review finds low risk of mercury contamination in residential areas of Botany and Randwick

Media release: 6 April 2016

A three-year, independent enquiry into mercury exposure in Botany and Randwick in Eastern Sydney has been finalised with the release of an Environmental Health Risk Assessment by Independent consultants Senversa.

The assessment found that the risk of mercury contamination in residential areas is low – supported by the results of stages one and two.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) Chief Environmental Regulator Mark Gifford said this was very good news for local residents and workers.

“The Botany Mercury Independent Review into offsite mercury contamination has been one of the most thorough investigations of its type in Australia,” Mr Gifford said.

“The comprehensive process has drawn on independent experts to assess any potential mercury impacts in the suburbs around the former plant,” Mr Gifford said.

Mr Gifford said the EPA would be hosting a public information session on Thursday 14 April to explain the results of the final review to local residents.

“We want to share the process and final results with the local community and answer any questions people may have. I encourage people to come along on Thursday 14 April to discuss the outcomes of the review with the EPA, Senversa and members of the Steering Panel,” said Mr Gifford.

Senversa Principal Risk Assessor Kristi Hanson said “The risk assessment reviewed mercury concentrations in soil, air, sediment and fish, and compared them to risk-based screening criteria developed by Australian and international health organisations. The conclusion was that mercury levels were below those that would cause unacceptable risk to human health, and were similar to those commonly present in urban areas.”  

Each stage of the review has been overseen by the steering panel which includes representatives from the EPA, community, Randwick and Botany councils, the Office of Environment and Heritage, NSW Health, an expert toxicologist and an independent chemical engineer.

The Botany Review Steering Panel said “Following the three independent stages, the Steering Panel are satisfied that the risk of mercury exposure in Botany and Randwick from Orica’s former Chlor Alkaline plant at Matraville is low.”

The Botany Mercury Independent Review has included three stages.

Stage 1 involved the analysis of around 12,000 pages of historical and current data and information from the community. It found that the risk of off-site soil contamination around Botany Industrial Park is low.

Stage 2 analysed over 300 samples of soil, vapour, fish and sediments. The results showed that the risk from mercury being present in soil and stormwater drains in the residential areas around Botany Industrial Park is very low.

Stage 3 used data collected during Stages 1 and 2 of the review to assess the health risks to local residents. Senversa’s findings show that the health risk from mercury contamination in residential areas of Botany and Randwick is low.

The EPA will publish a summary report of the entire Botany Independent Mercury Review in the coming months.

More information:

A public forum will be held on Thursday 14th April 2016 to provide the community with the opportunity to discuss Senversa’s results with representatives from the EPA, Senversa and the Steering Panel.

Thursday, 14 April 2016, 5.30-8.30pm

Botany Town Hall, Senior Citizens Centre, cnr of Botany Rd and Edward Street, entrance James Bourke Place (lane way off Edward St)

New migratory shorebirds plan to help protect some of Australia’s favourite overseas visitors

Media release: 8 April 2016 - The Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Minister for the Environment

The Australian Government is today launching a new plan to help protect 35 species of shorebirds that regularly travel thousands of kilometres to visit our shores.

Shorebirds such as the female bar-tailed godwit match the incredible long-haul range of an Airbus A380. We want to be there for the long-haul too, supporting their conservation.

The new Wildlife Conservation Plan for Migratory Shorebirds, launched in Melbourne with Birdlife Australia, identifies what more we need to do in partnership with our regional neighbours such as Japan, China and the Republic of Korea to safeguard migratory species.

Each year Australia becomes the home of migratory shorebirds such as the grey plover, red knot and common sandpiper during their non-breeding season.

These birds rely on Australia’s coastal and freshwater wetlands as places to rest and feed, with some travelling up to 11,500 kilometres non-stop to get here.

But the perilous nature of migration, where birds cross multiple national boundaries, means shorebirds face a multitude of threats.

The new plan recognises that populations of some of these shorebirds are in decline, and there is a growing need to reduce the threats to their habitat.

This is critical for the continued survival of these birds.

Conserving migratory shorebirds requires coordination and cooperation between countries along their migration route, and this plan provides the foundation for our engagement in various international forums such as the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species and the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership.

The East Asian-Australasian Flyway extends from breeding grounds in the Russian tundra, Mongolia, and Alaska southwards through east and south-east Asia, to non-breeding areas in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand.

This plan is guiding our bilateral talks with Japan, China and the Republic of Korea on how threats to migratory shorebirds in the Yellow Sea region can be managed with the help of local communities.

The Australian Government is already hard at work delivering on several priorities under the updated plan, including preparations for hosting Australia’s bilateral migratory bird consultative meetings in October.

We take our global obligations to these shorebirds seriously, having included 20 internationally important wetlands that they use in the East Asian – Australasian Flyway Site Network over the past decade.

This year, we also announced $200,000 for a National Environmental Science Programme project with BirdLife Australia to better understand our country’s spectacular waterbirds and shorebirds.

The Wildlife Conservation Plan for Migratory Shorebirds is available online at:

GasFields Commission Review: QLD -Until April 22, 2016

From this page:

The GasFields Commission is an independent statutory body established to manage and improve sustainable coexistence between rural landholders, regional communities and the onshore gas industry. The commission was formally established in July 2013, at a time of rapid development of the coal seam gas to liquefied natural gas (CSG-LNG) industry.

Queensland’s gas industry operates within a robust regulatory framework designed to minimise environmental and social impacts. Nevertheless, the government is committed to continually looking for opportunities to improve and strengthen this framework to address community concerns.

After operating for almost three years, it is timely to conduct a review of the GasFields Commission.

The review findings and recommendations will be provided to the Minister for State Development and be used to determine whether the current model works effectively or needs changing to manage disputes between resource companies and landholders, or if an alternative model, such as an independent Resources Ombudsman, is appropriate. The reviewer will undertake targeted stakeholder consultation with landholders, regional chambers of commerce, local governments, industry peak bodies, gas companies and government agencies. Public submissions will also be invited.

For further information on the scope of the review see the terms of reference.

Have your say

Have your say on the review. (Questionnaire) 

Submissions will add to the reviewer’s knowledge and understanding of the issues relevant to the review and may influence any recommendations made by the reviewer. A questionnaire has been developed to target the issues relevant to the reviewer. By completing the questionnaire, you are authorising the reviewer to use your submission for the purpose of the review.

Submissions may be subject to release under the Right to Information Act 2009 and may be provided to third parties for consultation purposes. If you would like your submission to be treated confidentially, please state this clearly in your submission and provide reasons. However, confidentiality cannot be guaranteed.

Proposed review timeline

22 March 2016 - GasFields Commission Review and independent reviewer announced

22 March 2016 - Public written submissions to the Review invited

April 2016 - Targeted stakeholder consultation

22 April 2016 - Public submissions close at 5.00pm

mid 2016 - Report and recommendations to Minister for State Development

Carmichael mine approvals put thousands of new jobs step closer

QLD Govt. Media Release: Sunday, April 03, 2016 - Premier and Minister for the Arts, The Honourable Annastacia Palaszczuk and Minister for State Development and Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, The Honourable Anthony Lynham

Thousands of new jobs in regional Queensland have come a major step closer with approval of the mining leases for the $21.7 billion Carmichael coal mine and rail project in the State’s Galilee Basin.

Premier Annastascia Palaszczuk said Minister for State Development and Minister for Natural Resources and Mines Dr Anthony Lynham had today approved the grant of three individual mining leases about 160km north-west of Clermont.

“This is a major step forward for this project after extensive government and community scrutiny,” the Premier said.

“Some approvals are still required before construction can start, and ultimately committing to the project will be a decision for Adani.

“However, I know the people of north and central Queensland will welcome this latest progress for the potential jobs and economic development it brings closer for their communities.

“At the same time, stringent conditions will continue to protect the environment, landholders’ and traditional owners’ interests, and our iconic Great Barrier Reef.”

The leases --- 70441 Carmichael, 70505 Carmichael East and 70506 Carmichael North --- are estimated to contain 11 billion tonnes of thermal coal. They provide for mining and the development of infrastructure such as haul roads, buildings, workshops, power lines, workers’ camp and pipelines. 

Adani has estimated the mine, rail and port project will generate more than 5000 jobs at the peak of construction and more than 4500 jobs at the peak of operations.

Dr Lynham said the process to date included public objections in 2014, Land Court hearings in 2015, and a Land Court recommendation in December 2015 that the mining leases be granted. 

“Many voices have been heard, and a lot of evidence considered,” he said.

“The mine’s environmental authority had about 140 conditions to protect local flora and fauna, groundwater and surface water resources, as well as controls on dust and noise. 

“A further 99 stringent and wide-ranging conditions apply to the rail and port elements of the project.

“My decision to approve these leases is tangible evidence of the Palaszczuk Government’s commitment to the sustainable development of the Galilee Basin for the thousands of jobs and economic development it will create.”

The Premier said the government had achieved progress while keeping all of its election commitments on the project.

“We have protected the Caley Valley wetlands and the Great Barrier Reef by not allowing dredge spoil to be dumped on the wetlands or in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area," she said.

Dr Lynham said there would be no dredging at Abbot Point until Adani demonstrates financial closure and Queensland taxpayers will not fund infrastructure for the project.

Member for Mackay Julieanne Gilbert and Member for Mirani Jim Pearce welcomed the positive progress on the project for their regions, hit hard by the commodity price downturn.

“Today’s news will be a real boost in communities like Moranbah, where jobs and confidence are very much tied to the resources’ sector’s fortunes,” Mr Pearce said.

Mrs Gilbert said the city of Mackay would welcome potential business for the city’s mining engineering and services sector, hand-in-hand with the assurance of strict environmental conditions to protect the reef.

Dr Lynham said overall, the coal, rail and port project now had 19 permits and approvals at local, state and federal level, including nine primary approvals from the State and Commonwealth Government.

“A number of other steps have to be completed before mine construction can start,” the Minister said.

“They include secondary approvals for rail, port facilities, power, water, roadworks and the airport and a financial assurance with the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.

“The independent Coordinator-General will continue to work with Adani to progress the project.”

2016 Annual World Oceans Day Oceanic Photo Competition

New York, USA: United Nations 

24 March 2016 - 20 May 2016

Photography is a powerful medium of expression that can be used to communicate strong positive messages about a subject. This open and free photo competition seeks to inspire the creation and dissemination of such positive imagery, which conveys the beauty and importance of the ocean and humankind’s relation to it.

CLICK HERE to enter contest 

The photo competition has five thematic categories open for photographic submissions:

 - Underwater seascapes

 - Underwater life

 - Above water seascapes

 - Human Interaction: Making a Difference

 - Youth Category: open category, any image of the ocean (above or below the surface)

(Youth is defined as under 16 years of age as of 1 April 2016)

The entries must be submitted electronically through the World Oceans Day Photo Competition portal in accordance with the competition guidelines and subject to the competition rules. Winning images will be recognized at the United Nations on Wednesday, 8 June 2016 during the United Nations event marking World Oceans Day 2016. 

Winning images and finalists will form part of an information exhibit in which the photos will be paired with narratives explaining the importance of the oceans to humanity and relating humankind’s positive relationship with the ocean.

Information and more HERE

Spotlight On Sustainability Of Pittwater Estuary

29 February 2016

Member for Pittwater Rob Stokes today announced the NSW Government is commencing consultation on the future of commercial fishing within the Pittwater estuary.

The NSW Marine Estate Management Authority has put forward a range of management initiatives to help improve marine conservation and maximise community benefits in key coastal areas.

The Pittwater estuary has been identified due to evidence of resource-use conflict between commercial net fishing and other user groups and the threats posed to the estuary’s long-term environmental sustainability and social value.

“The Pittwater estuary is our community’s most valuable natural asset,” Rob Stokes said today.

“Boating, fishing, kayaking, sailing and swimming are key parts of our community’s lifestyle and are all supported by this incredible waterway.

“Countless marine based businesses, tourism operators and retail providers also heavily depend on the estuary’s attractiveness and sustainability.

“Managing risks and conflicts is vital to help protect this valuable community asset and the continuation of commercial netting is now squarely under the spotlight.

“Various controls such as closures to commercial netting on weekends have been implemented but concerns still remain.

“For the first time an extensive threat and risk assessment has been undertaken and our community is now being asked to have our say on the future of commercial netting and the best ways forward.

“Community feedback will help inform further evaluation of the management responses and final recommendations to the NSW Government later this year.

“Copies of the report, and details on how to provide feedback, are available by visiting .

Submissions close on 24 April – so I encourage everyone who uses and enjoys the Pittwater to get involved and have their say,” Rob Stokes said.


Hawkesbury Shelf marine bioregion assessment

Have your say

The NSW Government is inviting your comments on suggested management initiatives to enhance marine biodiversity in the Hawkesbury Shelf marine bioregion while achieving balanced community outcomes, including opportunities for a wide range of recreational and commercial uses. These initiatives are described in the Marine Estate Management Authority’s Discussion Paper.

The Discussion Paper (4.8 MB, PDF) summarises the outcomes of community engagement, the findings of the threat and risk assessment and presents eight suggested management initiatives being considered to address the priority threats.

Supporting the discussion paper are seven background reportsincluding the Hawkesbury Shelf Marine Bioregion Threat and Risk Assessment (TARA) Report. A series of frequently asked questions are also available.

The feedback you provide will help inform the final package of management initiatives that MEMA will present to the NSW Government in mid-2016.

You can also provide new evidence about the threats that affect your use and enjoyment of the bioregion. New evidence could include scientific data, research outcomes or reports, including unpublished data.

Online submissions are welcome from 28 February 2016 until Sunday 24 April 2016.

Hard copy submission forms are also available at NSW DPI Fisheries offices and completed forms can be posted to:

Submission - Hawkesbury Shelf marine bioregion initiatives

NSW Department of Primary Industries, Locked Bag 1, Nelson Bay NSW 2315

If you would like to receive newsletters or notifications on the project, please email with your name, email address and postcode to be included on our mailing list.

Have your say on Illawarra Coals application for further Subsidence Management Plan approval

Date: 14.03.2016 Type: Departmental Media Release  Author: Department of Planning and Environment

The Department of Planning and Environment is seeking community feedback on Illawarra Coal’s application for further approval under the Subsidence Management Plan (SMP) for Area 3B of the Dendrobium Coal Mine, west of Wollongong.

The existing SMP was approved in 2013 and covers all underground mining within Area 3B, including Longwalls 9 to 19. However, the conditions of the SMP allowed only for extraction of coal from Longwalls 9 to 13, and specifically required further assessment and approval to be granted for extraction from the remaining longwalls.

The current application from Illawarra Coal seeks approval for extraction of coal from Longwalls 14 to 18. 

A spokesperson for the Department said the Department is aware of community interest in the project and is encouraging everyone to take a look at the plan and have their say.

“Community consultation is an integral part of the planning process and the applicant will have to respond to the feedback we receive,” the spokesperson said.

“Feedback from the community and other government agencies will be carefully considered by the Department during its assessment.”

To make a submission or view the policy, visit 

Submissions can be made from Monday, 14 March until Monday, 11 April 2016.

Written submissions can also be made to:

Department of Planning and Environment, Attn: Executive Director – Resource Assessments & Business Systems, GPO Box 39, Sydney NSW 2001

The application and EIS are also available to view in person at:

Department of Planning and Environment, 23-33 Bridge Street, Sydney

Wollongong City Council, 41 Burelli Street, Wollongong

Wingecarribee Shire Council, 68 Elizabeth Street, Moss Vale

Nature Conservation Council, Level 2, 5 Wilson Street, Newtown

Direct Link:

Pittwater Councils Environment Newsletter - Cooee March/April 2016

A Compilation of current local Environment News and upcoming Events issued bi-monthly

HERE (PDF - 2.65 MB) - Subscribe to receive HERE

A few Important Extracts from the Current - March/April edition:


Native to tropical America and member of the Asteraceae family, Singapore Daisy (Sphagneticola trilobata) is a vigorous ground cover with lush glossy green leaves in pairs up the stem, usually three lobed (hence the species name) but mostly with irregular toothed margins. Yellow to orange-yellow single daisy flowers about two centimetres across are produced from spring to summer and although variable amounts of seeds are produced, it is mainly spread vegetatively by cuttings via slashing and pruning.

Singapore Daisy colonises rapidly with stems rooting at the nodes, forming thick spreading mats up to two metres in length and 70 centimetres high that smother native groundcover, shrubs and seedlings.

Sphagneticola trilobata - photo by Wedelia

This garden escapee is already a declared Class 3 noxious weed in Queensland and well established in a variety of different environments including riparian areas, drains, roadside, wetlands and rainforest edges. However, in NSW Singapore Daisy has only recently been documented in a drainage area in Wyong Council and most recently in Pittwater, colonising a section of native groundcover in the Bush to Bay reserve, Careel Bay. This first known local incursion is highlighted for control as soon as funding is available to halt spreading.

If you think you have seen Singapore Daisy and certainly before commencing weed control, please contact Council’s Noxious Weed Officer on 9970 1111 to ensure that you have correctly identified this new weed as there are a few similar native daisy plants includingEnhydra fluctuans and Melanthera biflora that may be mistaken for this aggressive weed species. 



Come along and give the local community volunteers a hand to restore the coastal heath at the northern area of Bilgola Beach. This project is part of a Federal Government funded Salty Communities Grant for the ‘Biodiversity Protection of Bilgola Creek Catchment’.

The aim is working to restore and repair weed infested coastal bushland to a healthy viable state. Bush regeneration and weed control works are being undertaken along the walkway from Allen Avenue up to the Serpentine.

The morning event will help to replace weed infestation with local native coastal heath species. Can you give an hour or two on this morning? Want some more information about the project? Please contact the Bushland Management Officer on 9970 1390.

When: Monday 21 March, 8 – 11am

Where: Meet at the end of Allen Avenue, Bilgola Beach (northern end).



Saturday 23 April, 9 – 11am

Come and join us for a tour of the headlands of Narrabeen and Warriewood. This is a spectacular walk suitable for the whole family. Discover new places and secret beaches.


Saturday 14 May, 9 – 11am

Avalon. Meeting point provided on booking.

Join us for a relaxing morning walk taking in the beautiful views and coastal bushland of Bangalley Head.

Bangalley Head stands as the highest point and one of Pittwater’s largest bushland reserves on its clifftop coastline. This – together with the great variety of native plants and beautiful ocean views – makes Bangalley Head a haven for bushwalkers and wildlife alike. Native birds and marsupials – such as ringtail possums, honeyeaters, spinebills, finches and wrens – feed, breed and shelter among the dense thickets of coastal scrub and pockets of rainforest plants.

This is a fun walk for all the family and a great opportunity to learn more about our amazing flora and fauna!

Bookings essential for all events!

Online -

In person: Coastal Environment Centre, Lake Park Road, North Narrabeen Phone: 1300 000 232


30 March 2016: Media Release; Sydney Harbour Trust, Australian Government

Have Your Say at the Platypus Planning Open Day

Location: 118 High Street, North Sydney

Time: Saturday, 14 May, 2016, 10am – 3pm

Information Sessions: TBC


The Harbour Trust is holding a Planning Open Day at the Platypus Site following completion of the remediation and landscaping works. Platypus, on the foreshore of Neutral Bay, was formerly a gasworks factory that was partially resumed by the Commonwealth Government as a torpedo manufacturing facility during WWII. In 1967 it became the base for the Royal Australian Navy’s Oberon Class submarines and was renamed HMAS Platypus.

Learn more about the history of the former HMAS Platypus site

After transfer to the Harbour Trust, an extensive six-year remediation program is now complete.

Platypus is set to be transformed into an urban foreshore park comprising a series of connecting public spaces with buildings to be adaptively reused for recreational, community, commercial and cultural uses. The Harbour Trust is now preparing a Management Plan to guide the potential future uses of the site.

Have your say

The Platypus Planning Open Day will provide the public with an opportunity to view the recently completed remediation and landscaping works at the northern end of the site. Take a self-guided site tour, attend information sessions, and ‘Have Your Say’. The public feedback gathered during the Planning Open Day will help to inform the Harbour Trust’s preparation of a Draft Management Plan for the site. Once completed the Draft Management Plan will be placed on public exhibition with the public invited to comment.

Information Sessions will be held throughout the day.


Visitors are encouraged to utilise public transport to access the Platypus site Site (it is within walking distance from the North Sydney Ferry Stop, Milsons Point Railway Station and 263 bus). The Harbour Trust recommends using Google Maps(link is external) to navigate to the Platypus site entry point.

Please note: There is no parking available at the Platypus site and only very limited parking is available on High Street, North Sydney.

Safety and Access

Platypus is a construction site and contains uneven surfaces. Disability access is restricted in places. For your own safety, please wear sturdy enclosed footwear.

Unable to make it on the day?

Information will be posted online at: Please send any comments or questions, or call us on (02) 8969 2100 by 5:00pm Monday, 23 May, 2016.

Wild Things Talk At Warriewood: Get Native Bee Hives, Nest Boxes For your Own Backyard

Thursday 21 April, 7:15pm

Nelson Heather Centre, Banksia Room, 5 Jacksons Road, Warriewood

If you are passionate about our wildlife and their presence in our local areas – why not get help in your own backyard?

The Wild Things program, based at Ku-ring-gai Council, aims to protect urban wildlife and create suitable habitat in our backyards to encourage the return of wildlife. Wild Things work with Permaculture Northern Beaches and supply native bee hives. They also supply native fish, nest boxes as well as promote swimming pool conversions to aquaponics.

For more information please contact

Hollows as Homes Citizen Scientist Project: Sydney and NSW

Launched March 3rd, 2016: Royal Botanic Garden Sydney and University of Sydney

With the help of the community this project aims to assess the availability of tree hollows and their use by wildlife across the Sydney region. The Hollows as Homes team wants you to report tree hollow(s) in your backyard, street, park and/or paddock through

Find out more and Register at:

Facebook page

Participants will take measurements of the hollow-bearing tree and periodically conduct monitoring and report wildlife using the hollow(s). Training is available through workshops and the website.


Around 300 animal species rely on tree hollows in Australia, including birds, possums, gliders, microbats, frogs, lizards, snakes, insects and spiders. Changes to the landscape from urbanisation and agriculture not only reduce the amount of trees and homes for animals, but also create big gaps between the remaining trees and bushland. In New South Wales, of terrestrial vertebrate species that are reliant on tree hollows for shelter 40 species are listed as threatened with extinction.

Why does tree hollow loss matter?

Tree hollows are so important to our native wildlife, that their loss has been classed as a Key Threatening Process to biodiversity in New South Wales. It can take decades for a tree hollow to form. In Australia, there are no animals that are able to create tree hollows (e.g. wood pecker), thus hollow creation is a slow process that relies on fungus to eat away at the tree. What can we do to help?Cities and agricultural areas provide habitat for endangered animals and plants. We can encourage animals to share our cities, suburbs and farms by retaining:

Large, hollow bearing trees

Remnant patches of bushland that surround these trees which make it easier for them to move through the environment

Dead trees which provide important habitat whether they are standing or on the ground.

Top: Lorikeet in Angophora, McKay Reserve, Palm Beach

Report illegal dumping

NSW Government

The RIDonline website lets you report the types of waste being dumped and its GPS location. Photos of the waste can also be added to the report.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA), councils and Regional Illegal Dumping (RID) squads will use this information to investigate and, if appropriate, issue a fine or clean-up notice.

Penalties for illegal dumping can be up to $15,000 and potential jail time for anybody caught illegally dumping within five years of a prior illegal dumping conviction.

This is the first time RIDonline has been opened to the public. Since September last year, the EPA, councils, RID squads and public land managers have used it to report more than 20,000 tonnes of illegally dumped waste across more than 70 local government areas.

The NSW Government has allocated $58 million over five years to tackle illegal dumping as part of its $465.7 million Waste Less Recycle More initiative. NSW Premier Mike Baird has also committed to reducing the volume of litter by 40%, by 2020 to help keep NSW's environment clean.

Baby Boomers Five Times More Likely to Have Hepatitis C

April 6, 2016

Many baby boomers may be unaware they need screening for the hepatitis C virus, a small study suggests.

In a survey of 81 emergency room patients born during the “baby boom” from 1945 to 1965, only 29 percent of participants knew their risk for the virus was higher than for people born in earlier or later generations, the study found.

“Baby boomers are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than those groups born before or after this period,” said senior study author Dr. Ellie Carmody, an infectious disease researcher at New York University School of Medicine.

Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from an infected person enters the body of someone who isn’t infected. These days, most people infected with the virus get it from sharing needles or equipment to inject drugs, but it can also be transmitted during sex, and until a test for it was developed in the early 1990s, people could acquire hepatitis C through blood transfusions.

“Because hepatitis C does not cause symptoms until many years after the original infection, baby boomers may have been infected decades ago and be unaware of their infection,” Carmody added by email. “The longer people live with chronic hepatitis C, the more likely they are to develop complications.”

To see how well baby boomers understand the virus, Carmody and colleagues asked a sampling of patients treated at one New York Hospital to complete brief surveys quizzing them about the virus.

Most people surveyed knew hepatitis C could lead to liver failure or cancer and be transmitted during sex or from blood transfusions. But most of them also incorrectly assumed the virus could be spread by kissing or shaking hands.

Only 17 percent correctly noted that there’s no vaccine that can prevent people from getting the virus, researchers report in the Journal of Emergency Medicine.

Just 51 percent of respondents knew that hepatitis C can be cured, even though 77 percent correctly said new medicines have become available in recent years that make the virus easier to treat.

Beyond its small size, another limitation of the study is that not all patients answered every question on the survey, the authors note. In addition, more than half were not born in the U.S. and 69 percent had a high school diploma level of education or less, so the sample may not represent the wider population of baby boomers.

Nevertheless, emergency departments have become an important setting for early detection of infectious diseases and could be a good place for hepatitis screening, the authors write.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all baby boomers get tested for hepatitis C at least once as part of their standard medical care.

Testing is the only way to detect hepatitis C in many people who have the virus but don’t feel sick, said Dr. Alexander Millman, a medical epidemiologist in the CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis.

“Hepatitis C infection can last a lifetime and lead to serious liver problems, including cirrhosis, which is scarring of the liver, liver cancer, or death,” Millman, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

“Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation in the United States,” Millman added.

Knowledge about Hepatitis C Virus Infection and Acceptability of Testing in the 1945–1965 Birth Cohort (Baby Boomers) Presenting to a Large Urban Emergency Department: A Pilot Study. The Journal of Emergency Medicine, online March 4, 2016. 

Appointments to the Australian Medical Research Advisory Board

4 April 2016

The Australian Government’s landmark Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) has taken another important step towards delivering Australia’s unlimited potential in realising life-saving and life-changing medical breakthroughs.

The Minister for Health Sussan Ley today announced the appointment of an eight-member board to advise the Government on how funds held in the MRFF should be allocated.

The new Australian Medical Research Advisory Board will comprise leading experts in medical research and innovation, health policy and commercialisation, including experience and knowledge in philanthropy, consumer issues and translating research into frontline health care services.

“Through their expert and independent advice to the Government, the Advisory Board will play a key role in delivering on the MRFF’s agenda to support our world-class researchers and reinforce our nation’s great research reputation,” Minister Ley said.

“The MRFF is the single largest investment in medical research ever made in this country and a core part of the Australian Government’s health reform and innovation agenda. 

“Today’s announcement is another example of the Government taking the lead to foster innovation and ideas, creating the modern, dynamic, 21st-century economy Australia needs in the future.

“The MRFF will help us to understand diseases and support the search for possible cures or preventions. It also provides much needed additional funding to the health and medical research sector to address national priorities, drive innovation, improve delivery of health care, boost the efficiency and effectiveness of the health system and contribute to economic growth.” 

Australia has a strong track record in medical research and discoveries. 

For example, Professor Ian Frazer’s (Chair of the MRFF) work in discovering and commercialising the vaccine now known as Gardasil led to the incidence of HPV-associated disease dropping by around 75 per cent. Over the next 30 years, a corresponding reduction in cervical cancer incidence is expected. 

Through the MRFF, the Australian Government will provide the resources and the opportunities for our best and brightest medical scientists to look for and find more ways to ‘beat’ cancers and other diseases which profoundly affect the lives of Australians every day.

It is expected the MRFF will eventually provide around $1 billion a year in additional funding for health and medical research.

The Advisory Board will develop the Australian Medical Research and Innovation Strategy every five years, and associated Australian Medical Research and Innovation Priorities every two years. It will also provide advice to the Health Minister on other matters that relate to use of funding from the MRFF.

The Advisory Board will shortly begin a consultation to distil the right strategic direction and priorities recommended for investment.

“The Advisory Board will ensure that any expenditure from the MRFF will have a strong business case, enduring that the financial assistance provided from the fund delivers the greatest value for all Australians,” Minister Ley said.

The Advisory Board comprises:

Professor Ian Frazer AC is a scientist and was immediate past Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Director of Research of the Translational Research Institute. He is now Chair of the Translation Research Institute Foundation Board. Together with researchers at the National Cancer Institute, Georgetown University, and University of Rochester, he developed and patented the basic technology behind the HPV vaccine against cervical cancer. He is President of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Science and member of the Commonwealth Science Council. He is also Chairman of the Australian Cancer Research Foundation's Medical Research Advisory Committee.

Professor Ian Frazer will be the Chair of the Advisory Board 

Professor Peter Høj is Vice Chancellor and President of The University of Queensland. Before this, he was Vice-Chancellor and President University of South Australia; CEO of the Australian Research Council; and Managing Director of the Australian Wine Research Institute. 

Professor Doug Hilton is president of The Association of Australian Medical Research Institute, Director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, and Head of the Department of Medical Biology at The University of Melbourne. Throughout his career, Professor Hilton has been actively involved in the application of research through collaboration with industry and is an inventor on more than 20 patent families.

Professor Karen Reynolds is Director of the Medical Device Research Institute and the Medical Device Partnering Program (MDPP), as well as Deputy Dean of the School of Computer Science, Engineering and Mathematics at Flinders University. She established the MDPP to convene researchers, industry and end users of medical technologies, resulting in novel devices that improve diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of patients.

Dr Deborah Rathjen is the Managing Director of Bionomics Corporation, based in Thebarton, Adelaide. She began with a virtual company which has turned Bionomics into a notable Biotechnology/Biomedical firm with a $200 million market capitalisation. Her role in developing cancer treating drugs and other medications is a large contribution to Bionomics' current success in the biotechnology market.

Mr Yasser El-Ansary is the Chief Executive of the Australian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association where he is responsible for leading the strategic direction of the organisation’s work in representing the private equity and venture capital industry in Australia. He has almost 20 years’ experience as a business adviser and public policy expert, through his previous roles with PwC, Rio Tinto, Australand Property Group, as well as the Department of Treasury in Canberra.

Ms Jennifer Williams is the previous Chief Executive of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. Ms Williams has previously held the positions of Chief Executive Alfred Health, Chief Executive Austin Health, Director in the Department of Human Services (Victorian Government) and other senior management positions in the public and private sectors. 

Professor Anne Kelso AO is CEO of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). The CEO of the NRMRC will have a permanent seat on the Advisory Board to support coordination of approaches. With the exception of the CEO of the NHMRC, members are appointed for a period of up to five years.

“These Advisory Board members bring a depth of experience from across the science industry, and will play an important role in translating research into practice,” Minister Ley said.

A real Peter Rabbit tale: Biologists find key to myxoma virus/rabbit coevolution

April 5, 2016

Myxoma virus, a rabbit-specific virus related to the smallpox virus, infects rabbit cells by inhibiting rabbits' cellular virus-defenses. The mutated strain is not able to establish an active infection like the one shown here. Credit: Kansas State University

A naturally-occurring mutation in a rabbit-specific virus -- related to the smallpox virus -- weakens the virus and may give insight to understanding pathogen evolution, according to a Kansas State University study.

"Our findings may help scientists predict which viruses can pose threats to humans," said Stefan Rothenburg, assistant professor in the Division of Biology and principal investigator for the study. "It is a big step toward understanding the molecular basis of host-virus interaction."

Rothenburg; microbiology doctoral students Chen Peng, China, and Sherry Haller, Topeka; and collaborators from the University of Florida, recently published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America about the function of an immune-regulating protein from myxoma virus, called M156. According to Rothenburg, M156 inhibits an antiviral protein from the host in a species-specific fashion. The researchers also characterized a loss-of-function mutation in M156 that makes the once severe virus weaker.

"We are still very ignorant when it comes to predicting which viruses pose threats to humans and animals," Rothenburg said. "We don't fully understand the molecular mechanisms. This is why it is important to study a very well established host-virus system like myxoma virus in the European rabbit as a model for human viruses and why understanding this mutation is important."

Myxoma virus was intentionally released in Australia in the 1950s to control invasive rabbits. At that time, the mortality rate of virus infection was nearly 100 percent and the release led to a huge decrease in the European rabbit population. According to Rothenburg, within a few years, two things happened that stunned scientists at the time: Myxoma virus mutated to become weaker, or attenuated, and the rabbits evolved to become more resistant to the virus.

"These two phenomena together led to a rebound of the rabbit population," Rothenburg said. "The scientists found that the naturally evolved weakening of the virus is actually beneficial for the virus because infected rabbits lived longer and were able to better transmit the virus."

Rothenburg further said that on the population level, this is probably the best-known example for a host-virus coevolution in nature, but it lacked a molecular explanation until this study.

M156 normally inhibits a rabbit's virus-defense factor called protein kinase R, or PKR. Peng and colleagues found that a single mutation causes the virus's protein to fail at inhibiting the rabbit's PKR and makes the virus weaker.

"The virus has an evolutionary advantage to maintain this mutation because it is found in more than 50 percent of the Australian virus isolates," Peng said.

The researchers found that only rabbit PKR was inhibited by M156 but not PKR from other mammals, which may contribute to the reason why myxoma virus only causes disease in rabbits. According to Rothenburg, the interaction of the host and virus proteins is like a lock and a key where the lock is PKR and the virus inhibitor is the key. If either lock or key change, the virus cannot establish an active infection in the host, he said.

Rothenburg's next step is to look at myxoma strains that were illegally released in Europe for the same purpose -- to see if there are mutations in PKR inhibitors with similar effects. In addition, the Rothenburg lab is using the knowledge gained from the current study to modify myxoma virus with the goal to enhance the virus's oncolytic activity and to expand the spectrum of cancer forms that can be destroyed by myxoma virus.

"Our findings are important because we can use the gained knowledge for examining pathogens that concern human health," Rothenburg said. "Those include viruses such as influenza or Ebola viruses, which can jump from animals into the human population and also counteract their hosts' immune system, including the inhibition of PKR. Investigating species-specific interactions might yield valuable information about which viruses pose future threats."

Chen Peng, Sherry L. Haller, Masmudur M. Rahman, Grant McFadden, Stefan Rothenburg. Myxoma virus M156 is a specific inhibitor of rabbit PKR but contains a loss-of-function mutation in Australian virus isolates.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2016; 113 (14): 3855 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1515613113

Seasonal influenza vaccination during pregnancy may reduce risk of stillbirth

March 31, 2016

Seasonal influenza vaccination may guard against stillbirth, a new study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases and available online suggests. Researchers in Western Australia analyzed data from nearly 60,000 births that occurred during the southern hemisphere's 2012 and 2013 seasonal influenza epidemics, and found that women who received the trivalent influenza vaccine during pregnancy were 51 percent less likely to experience a stillbirth than unvaccinated mothers.

The retrospective study used midwives' records to examine a cohort of 58,008 births: 52,932 to mothers who had not received the vaccine and 5,076 to mothers who had been vaccinated during pregnancy. All births took place in Western Australia between April of 2012 and December of 2013. The adjusted risk of stillbirth among vaccinated mothers was 51 percent lower than the risk among women who had not been vaccinated.

Researchers also observed that stillbirth rates increased after periods of influenza virus circulation and decreased during the months prior to the influenza season, although the seasonal differences were not statistically significant. The study's results are consistent with those of a 2000 study in Switzerland that recorded increased incidence of stillbirth in relation to the northern hemisphere's influenza season, as well as with similar research conducted during the influenza A/H1N1 pandemic.

"During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, we saw a similar reduction in stillbirths following vaccination," said study author Annette Regan, MPH, of the Western Australia Department of Health. "Our results are particularly exciting since they show we can get the same protection during seasonal epidemics, which occur every winter. Unfortunately, we know that about 40 percent of pregnant women go unvaccinated, missing out on these benefits."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends annual flu vaccination for everyone 6 months of age and older, including pregnant women during any trimester of their pregnancy. Pregnancy puts women at an increased risk of developing serious complications related to influenza, including acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia. Infection during pregnancy has also been linked to fetal mortality and premature births. But concern for the safety of the fetus dissuades many expectant mothers from vaccination.

The new study's findings not only support the safety of influenza vaccination during pregnancy, but also suggest that vaccination protects against stillbirth. The authors noted that the protective benefits they observed "may be an underestimate of the true effect measure" due to the methods of data analysis employed in their study.

Over 3 million stillbirths occur worldwide each year, and in developed countries, stillbirth accounts for 70 percent of infant deaths around the time of birth. Establishing a connection between influenza season and stillbirth could have global implications for infant mortality.

Further research is needed to confirm the possible links between stillbirth, influenza season, and vaccination, the study's findings indicate. But the researchers are hopeful that their data will be useful for communicating vaccination's potential health benefits to expectant mothers and health care providers.

"I'm hoping results like these can convince more pregnant women to get vaccinated each year," Regan said.

Fast Facts

• In this retrospective cohort study, women in Western Australia who received the seasonal trivalent influenza vaccine during pregnancy showed a 51 percent lower risk of experiencing a stillbirth than unvaccinated expectant mothers.

• Observed rates of stillbirth increased just after periods of influenza virus circulation, suggesting a link between incidence of stillbirth and the influenza season.

• Over 3 million stillbirths occur worldwide each year, and in developed countries, stillbirth accounts for 70 percent of infant deaths around the time of birth.

Annette K. Regan, Hannah C. Moore, Nicholas de Klerk, Saad B. Omer, Geoffrey Shellam, Donna B. Mak, and Paul V. Effler.Seasonal Trivalent Influenza Vaccination During Pregnancy and the Incidence of Stillbirth: Population-Based Retrospective Cohort Study. Clinical Infectious Diseases, March 2016 DOI:10.1093/cid/ciw082

Supernovae showered Earth with radioactive debris

April 6, 2016

False color image of Cassiopeia A using Hubble and Spitzer telescopes and Chandra X-ray Observatory. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

An international team of scientists has found evidence of a series of massive supernova explosions near our solar system, which showered Earth with radioactive debris.

The scientists found radioactive iron-60 in sediment and crust samples taken from the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

The iron-60 was concentrated in a period between 3.2 and 1.7 million years ago, which is relatively recent in astronomical terms, said research leader Dr Anton Wallner from The Australian National University (ANU).

"We were very surprised that there was debris clearly spread across 1.5 million years," said Dr Wallner, a nuclear physicist in the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering. "It suggests there were a series of supernovae, one after another.

"It's an interesting coincidence that they correspond with when the Earth cooled and moved from the Pliocene into the Pleistocene period."

The team from Australia, the University of Vienna in Austria, Hebrew University in Israel, Shimizu Corporation and University of Tokyo, Nihon University and University of Tsukuba in Japan, Senckenberg Collections of Natural History Dresden and Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) in Germany, also found evidence of iron-60 from an older supernova around eight million years ago, coinciding with global faunal changes in the late Miocene.

Some theories suggest cosmic rays from the supernovae could have increased cloud cover.

A supernova is a massive explosion of a star as it runs out of fuel and collapses.

The scientists believe the supernovae in this case were less than 300 light years away, close enough to be visible during the day and comparable to the brightness of the Moon.

Although Earth would have been exposed to an increased cosmic ray bombardment, the radiation would have been too weak to cause direct biological damage or trigger mass extinctions.

The supernova explosions create many heavy elements and radioactive isotopes which are strewn into the cosmic neighbourhood.

One of these isotopes is iron-60 which decays with a half-life of 2.6 million years, unlike its stable cousin iron-56. Any iron-60 dating from Earth's formation more than four billion years ago has long since disappeared.

The iron-60 atoms reached Earth in minuscule quantities and so the team needed extremely sensitive techniques to identify the interstellar iron atoms.

"Iron-60 from space is a million-billion times less abundant than the iron that exists naturally on Earth," said Dr Wallner.

Dr Wallner was intrigued by first hints of iron-60 in samples from the Pacific Ocean floor, found a decade ago by a group at TU Munich.

He assembled an international team to search for interstellar dust from 120 ocean-floor samples spanning the past 11 million years.

The first step was to extract all the iron from the ocean cores. This time-consuming task was performed by two groups, at HZDR and the University of Tokyo.

The team then separated the tiny traces of interstellar iron-60 from the other terrestrial isotopes using the Heavy-Ion Accelerator at ANU and found it occurred all over the globe.

The age of the cores was determined from the decay of other radioactive isotopes, beryllium-10 and aluminium-26, using accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) facilities at DREsden AMS (DREAMS) of HZDR, Micro Analysis Laboratory (MALT) at the University of Tokyo and the Vienna Environmental Research Accelerator (VERA) at the University of Vienna.

The dating showed the fallout had only occurred in two time periods, 3.2 to 1.7 million years ago and eight million years ago. Current results from TU Munich are in line with these findings.

A possible source of the supernovae is an aging star cluster, which has since moved away from Earth, independent work led by TU Berlin has proposed in a parallel publication. The cluster has no large stars left, suggesting they have already exploded as supernovae, throwing out waves of debris.

A. Wallner, J. Feige, N. Kinoshita, M. Paul, L. K. Fifield, R. Golser, M. Honda, U. Linnemann, H. Matsuzaki, S. Merchel, G. Rugel, S. G. Tims, P. Steier, T. Yamagata, S. R. Winkler. Recent near-Earth supernovae probed by global deposition of interstellar radioactive 60Fe. Nature, 2016; 532 (7597): 69 DOI:10.1038/nature17196

Architecture of the sperm whale forehead facilitates ramming combat

April 5, 2016

Diagram of the sperm whale head structure. Credit: Ali Nabavizadeh

A new study addresses a controversial hypothesis regarding the potential ramming function of the sperm whale's head. The hypothesis, originally proposed by a 19th century whaler, suggests that the forehead of male sperm whales evolved partly to be used as a battering ram weapon when fighting for access to reproductively active females. This hypothesis was instrumental in inspiring Herman Melville to write the novel Moby Dick but its mechanical feasibility had never been addressed.

An interdisciplinary team from Australia, UK, USA and Japan used structural engineering principles to test how the head of the sperm whale might be able to resist strong ramming impacts.

"The sperm whale forehead is one of the strangest structures in the animal kingdom," says Dr. Olga Panagiotopoulou from the University of Queensland, and the lead author of the paper."Internally the forehead is composed of two large oil-filled sacs, stacked one on top of the other, known as the spermaceti organ and the junk sacs. It is the oil within the upper spermaceti organ that was the main target of the whaling industry in the early 19th century." Panagiotopoulou adds, "This whole complex is highly sexually dimorphic which means that it is much larger in males than in females, a pattern commonly found in species in which males fight to compete for females."

The battering ram hypothesis was originally proposed by a 19th whaler, Owen Chase, after his ship, the Essex, was sunk by a large male that intentionally rammed the ship with his forehead.

Professor David Carrier, a co-author from the University of Utah said "we know that the sperm whale head is important in transmitting sonar clicks and there are many other hypotheses about its role in communication and buoyancy." "But none of these hypotheses could explain how the sperm whale head could function as a weapon capable of sinking ships that are four to five times the mass of the whale."

"The ramming hypothesis was received with reluctance by the scientific community" says Panagiotopoulou. "This was mainly because the front part of the sperm whale head houses sensitive anatomical structures that produce the sounds essential for sonar and would be in harm's way in a ramming event. Also not many people had actually observed sperm whales ramming."

"We were fascinated when we received a report from a pilot and conservation researcher, who documented sperm whales ramming while flying over the Gulf of California" says Carrier. And adds "we then knew that our ramming hypothesis had some merit and looked into the available technology to test it."

"Creating a computer model to simulate ramming in sperm whales was a challenging task" adds Dr. Spyridis, consulting engineer and a co-author of the study. "When analysing bridges, tunnels, or buildings you are given exact measurements and material properties for the simulations but in this case we were restricted to limited published data and we had to perform a series of sensitivity tests to ensure model efficiency," he adds.

"We used probabilistic simulation to study the mechanical effects of impact variation," said Associate Professor Todd Pataky from Shinshu University in Japan and senior author of the paper. "After creating a series of modified versions of the type and direction of impact force on the sperm whale head, we concluded that the connective tissue partitions embedded within the junk absorb impact stresses and protect the skull from fracturing"

"Increased skull stresses at a ramming event can be detrimental for the animal since they can cause fatal fractures," says Panagiotopoulou. "Our findings show that the mechanical advantage of the structure of the junk may be the result of acquired traits related to selection on male to male aggressive behaviour. Although male sperm whales may not fight frequently, we know that aggressive ramming behaviour is a common characteristic in the group of mammals from which whales are derived -- the even-toed ungulates, the artiodactyls. A closer look into the anatomy of the heads of other species of whales that ram may reveal a variety of protective mechanisms."

"Our study has limitations but we hope to stimulate future research to unravel the mechanical function of the head during head-butting events in other species, where aggressive behaviour has been observed, but remains unmodelled" added Panagiotopoulou.

Olga Panagiotopoulou, Panagiotis Spyridis, Hyab Mehari Abraha, David R. Carrier, Todd C. Pataky. Architecture of the sperm whale forehead facilitates ramming combat. PeerJ, 2016; 4: e1895 DOI: 10.7717/peerj.1895

New state of matter detected in a two-dimensional material

April 4, 2016

The excitation of a spin liquid on a honeycomb lattice with neutrons.Credit: Image courtesy of University of Cambridge

An international team of researchers have found evidence of a mysterious new state of matter, first predicted 40 years ago, in a real material. This state, known as a quantum spin liquid, causes electrons -- thought to be indivisible building blocks of nature -- to break into pieces.

The researchers, including physicists from the University of Cambridge, measured the first signatures of these fractional particles, known as Majorana fermions, in a two-dimensional material with a structure similar to graphene. Their experimental results successfully matched with one of the main theoretical models for a quantum spin liquid, known as a Kitaev model. The results are reported in the journal Nature Materials.

Quantum spin liquids are mysterious states of matter which are thought to be hiding in certain magnetic materials, but had not been conclusively sighted in nature.

The observation of one of their most intriguing properties -- electron splitting, or fractionalisation -- in real materials is a breakthrough. The resulting Majorana fermions may be used as building blocks of quantum computers, which would be far faster than conventional computers and would be able to perform calculations that could not be done otherwise.

"This is a new quantum state of matter, which has been predicted but hasn't been seen before," said Dr Johannes Knolle of Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory, one of the paper's co-authors.

In a typical magnetic material, the electrons each behave like tiny bar magnets. And when a material is cooled to a low enough temperature, the 'magnets' will order themselves over long ranges, so that all the north magnetic poles point in the same direction, for example.

But in a material containing a spin liquid state, even if that material is cooled to absolute zero, the bar magnets would not align but form an entangled soup caused by quantum fluctuations.

"Until recently, we didn't even know what the experimental fingerprints of a quantum spin liquid would look like," said paper co-author Dr Dmitry Kovrizhin, also from the Theory of Condensed Matter group of the Cavendish Laboratory. "One thing we've done in previous work is to ask, if I were performing experiments on a possible quantum spin liquid, what would I observe?"

Knolle and Kovrizhin's co-authors, led by Dr Arnab Banerjee and Dr Stephen Nagler from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US, used neutron scattering techniques to look for experimental evidence of fractionalisation in alpha-ruthenium chloride (a-RuCl3). The researchers tested the magnetic properties of a-RuCl3 powder by illuminating it with neutrons, and observing the pattern of ripples that the neutrons produced on a screen when they scattered from the sample.

A regular magnet would create distinct sharp lines, but it was a mystery what sort of pattern the Majorana fermions in a quantum spin liquid would make. The theoretical prediction of distinct signatures by Knolle and his collaborators in 2014 match well with the broad humps instead of sharp lines which experimentalists observed on the screen, providing for the first time direct evidence of a quantum spin liquid and the fractionalisation of electrons in a two dimensional material.

"This is a new addition to a short list of known quantum states of matter," said Knolle.

"It's an important step for our understanding of quantum matter," said Kovrizhin. "It's fun to have another new quantum state that we've never seen before -- it presents us with new possibilities to try new things."

A. Banerjee et al. Proximate Kitaev quantum spin liquid behaviour in a honeycomb magnet. Nature Materials, 2016 DOI:10.1038/nmat4604

Can your fitness tracker save your life in the ER?

April 5, 2016

Emergency physicians used a patient's personal activity tracker and smartphone to identify the time his heart arrhythmia started, which allowed them to treat his new-onset atrial fibrillation with electrical cardioversion and discharge him home. The first case report using information in an activity tracker/smartphone system to assist in medical decision-making was reported online Friday inAnnals of Emergency Medicine ("Interrogation of Patient Activity Tracker to Assist Arrhythmia Management").

"Using the patient's activity tracker -- in this case, a Fitbit® -- we were able to pinpoint exactly when the patient's normal heart rate of 70 jumped up to 190," said corresponding study author Alfred Sacchetti, MD, FACEP of Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, N.J. "The device told us that the patient's atrial fibrillation was present for only a few hours. That was well within the 48-hour window needed to consider him for rhythm conversion, so we cardioverted him and sent him home."

A 42-year-old patient with a history of seizures but no history of cardiac disease or prior episodes of atrial fibrillation came to the emergency department following a seizure. He had an irregular heart rate ranging between 130 and 190 beats per minute. He was medicated with oxcarbazepine and diltiazem. His heart rate returned to normal (between 80 and 100 beats per minute) but the atrial fibrillation remained.

The treatment of recent onset atrial fibrillation is electrical cardioversion in any patient who can reliably relate an arrhythmia onset time of within the previous 48 hours. Because the patient was asymptomatic during his current episode of atrial fibrillation, it was not possible to assign an onset time for his arrhythmia.

Emergency department staff accessed the smartphone application connected with his activity tracker and discovered the onset time for his atrial fibrillation was 3 hours prior to coming to the emergency department. After cardioverting the sedated patient, emergency department staff interrogated the smartphone app again, which accurately recorded the change in heart rate consistent with a rhythm change from atrial fibrillation to normal rhythm. The patient was discharged home with instructions to follow up with outpatient cardiology.

"Not all activity trackers measure heart rates, but this is the function of most value to medical providers," said Dr. Sacchetti. "Dizziness with a heart rate of 180 would be approached very differently from the same complaint with a heart rate of 30. At present, activity trackers are not considered approved medical devices and use of their information to make medical decisions is at the clinician's own discretion. However, the increased use of these devices has the potential to provide emergency physicians with objective clinical information prior to the patient's arrival at the emergency department."

Joshua Rudner, Carol McDougall, Vivek Sailam, Monika Smith, Alfred Sacchetti. Interrogation of Patient Smartphone Activity Tracker to Assist Arrhythmia Management. Annals of Emergency Medicine, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2016.02.039

Can Your Fitness Tracker (Fitbit®) Save Your Life in the ER?

Published on 5 Apr 2016

Emergency physicians used a patient’s personal activity tracker and smart phone to identify the time his heart arrhythmia started, which allowed them to treat his new-onset atrial fibrillation with electrical cardioversion and discharge him home. The first case report using information in an activity tracker smart phone system to assist in medical decision-making is reported online Friday in Annals of Emergency Medicine (“Interrogation of Patient Activity Tracker to Assist Arrhythmia Management”).

'Game changing' stem cell repair system

April 4, 2016: UNSW

Stem cell therapies capable of regenerating any human tissue damaged by injury, disease or ageing could be available within a few years, following landmark research led by UNSW Australia researchers. Credit: Michael Whitehead/UNSW Media

Stem cell therapies capable of regenerating any human tissue damaged by injury, disease or ageing could be available within a few years, following landmark research led by UNSW Australia researchers.

The repair system, similar to the method used by salamanders to regenerate limbs, could be used to repair everything from spinal discs to bone fractures, and has the potential to transform current treatment approaches to regenerative medicine.

The UNSW-led research has been published today in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

Study lead author, haematologist and UNSW Associate Professor John Pimanda, said the new technique, which reprograms bone and fat cells into induced multipotent stem cells (iMS), has been successfully demonstrated in mice.

"This technique is a significant advance on many of the current unproven stem cell therapies, which have shown little or no objective evidence they contribute directly to new tissue formation," Associate Professor Pimanda said.

"We are currently assessing whether adult human fat cells reprogrammed into iMS cells can safely repair damaged tissue in mice, with human trials expected to begin in late 2017."

There are different types of stem cells including embryonic stem (ES) cells, which during embryonic development generate every type of cell in the human body, and adult stem cells, which are tissue-specific. There are no adult stem cells that regenerate multiple tissue types.

"This technique is ground-breaking because iMS cells regenerate multiple tissue types," Associate Professor Pimanda said.

"We have taken bone and fat cells, switched off their memory and converted them into stem cells so they can repair different cell types once they are put back inside the body."

The technique developed by UNSW researchers involves extracting adult human fat cells and treating them with the compound 5-Azacytidine (AZA), along with platelet-derived growth factor-AB (PDGF-AB) for approximately two days. The cells are then treated with the growth factor alone for a further two-three weeks.

AZA is known to induce cell plasticity, which is crucial for reprogramming cells. The AZA compound relaxes the hard-wiring of the cell, which is expanded by the growth factor, transforming the bone and fat cells into iMS cells. When the stem cells are inserted into the damaged tissue site, they multiply, promoting growth and healing.

The new technique is similar to salamander limb regeneration, which is also dependent on the plasticity of differentiated cells, which can repair multiple tissue types, depending on which body part needs replacing.

The study's first author, Dr Vashe Chandrakanthan, who developed the technology, said the new technique is an advance on other stem cell therapies being investigated, which have a number of deficiencies.

"Embryonic stem cells cannot be used to treat damaged tissues because of their tumour forming capacity. The other problem when generating stem cells is the requirement to use viruses to transform cells into stem cells, which is clinically unacceptable," Dr Chandrakanthan said.

"We believe we've overcome these issues with this new technique."

Neurosurgeon and Conjoint Lecturer with UNSW's Prince of Wales Clinical School, Dr Ralph Mobbs, will lead the human trials, once the safety and effectiveness of the technique using human cells in mice has been demonstrated.

"The therapy has enormous potential for treating back and neck pain, spinal disc injury, joint and muscle degeneration and could also speed up recovery following complex surgeries where bones and joints need to integrate with the body," Dr Mobbs said.

Research shows that up to 20% of spinal implants either don't heal or there is delayed healing. The rates are higher for smokers, older people and patients with diseases such diabetes or kidney disease.

"Spinal implants currently used to replace damaged or troubled discs don't always weld with the adjacent bones, so by transplanting these reprogrammed stem cells, we hope to be able to better fuse these implants to the host bone," Dr Mobbs said.

"This represents a potential huge leap forward for spinal and orthopaedic procedures."

Along with confirming that human adult fat cells reprogrammed into iMS stem cells can safely repair damaged tissue in mice, the researchers said further work is required to establish whether iMS cells remain dormant at the sites of transplantation and retain their capacity to proliferate on demand.

Vashe Chandrakanthan, Avani Yeola, Jair C. Kwan, Rema A. Oliver, Qiao Qiao, Young Chan Kang, Peter Zarzour, Dominik Beck, Lies Boelen, Ashwin Unnikrishnan, Jeanette E. Villanueva, Andrea C. Nunez, Kathy Knezevic, Cintia Palu, Rabab Nasrallah, Michael Carnell, Alex Macmillan, Renee Whan, Yan Yu, Philip Hardy, Shane T. Grey, Amadeus Gladbach, Fabien Delerue, Lars Ittner, Ralph Mobbs, Carl R. Walkley, Louise E. Purton, Robyn L. Ward, Jason W. H. Wong, Luke B. Hesson, William Walsh, and John E. Pimanda.PDGF-AB and 5-Azacytidine induce conversion of somatic cells into tissue-regenerative multipotent stem cells. PNAS, April 4, 2016 DOI:10.1073/pnas.1518244113

Government moves to protect owner-drivers and consumers

Monday 4 April 2016- Media Release: Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, Minister for Employment, Minister for Women, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service , Senator for Western Australia

The Coalition Government has today announced that it will be introducing legislation into the House of Representatives in the week commencing 18 April 2016 to ensure that orders setting mandatory remuneration rates for truck drivers cannot commence before 1 January 2017.

The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal Payments Order that was due to commence on 4 April has been temporarily delayed pending the outcome of an urgent appeal brought by industry against the commencement date of the order, which is supported by the Commonwealth Government.

Minister for Employment, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, said this legislation, if passed by the Senate, will provide certainty for the trucking industry while reform options for the Road Safety Remuneration system are considered by the Government.

“Today I also announce that given the urgency of this matter, consultations with key industry stakeholders for reform options for the system will commence this week,” Minister Cash said.

“This is a priority for the Government as owner-drivers are the lifeblood of the economy. Anything which threatens their viability will have significant implications across the country – this is not something we will tolerate.”

“If the payments order was to come into effect as planned it would be devastating for thousands of owner-drivers and consumers alike.”

Ancient Algae Offer New Hope for Hard-to-Treat Cancers

April 6, 2016

Could a slippery glob of algae hold the key to the next anti-cancer drug? According to new research into a compound produced by a unique community of blue-green algae, the answer could be yes.

The compound in question is called coibamide A, discovered eight years ago by scuba-diving scientist Kerry McPhail, Ph.D., of Oregon State University. A new study shows coibamide A has potent anti-cancer activity in mice and cell cultures that model brain tumors and triple negative breast cancer, two of the most aggressive and difficult-to-treat types of cancer.

"The chemical diversity found in nature has always been a significant source of inspiration for drug design and development, but although the medicinal properties of plants have been recognized for thousands of years, marine environments remain relatively unexplored," said Jane Ishmael, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology at Oregon State University and the lead author of the new study. "We think that with this compound, nature has already found a way to target some of the specific proteins that are relevant to the growth of tumors."

Ishmael will present this research at the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics Annual Meeting during Experimental Biology 2016.

McPhail, who specializes in blue-green algae and dives all over the world in search of interesting species, collected the algae during a dive in Panama's Coiba National Park. It turned out to be a mash-up of at least three algal species that grow together on rocks in areas with fast-moving water. In addition to Panama, similar algal communities has been found in the Red Sea and off the coast of South Africa. Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, have existed for at least two billion years and are one of the oldest life forms on Earth.

After McPhail isolated coibamide A from the original algal specimen, it was run through a National Cancer Institute screening system that looks for potential anti-cancer activity across 60 different types of cancer. Coibamide A showed a pattern of activity unmatched by any other compound, suggesting it might be able to fight cancer through a mechanism of action unlike that of any existing drug.

The screening revealed coibamide A to be capable of killing many types of cancer cells, but Ishmael decided to focus subsequent studies on two types in particular -- brain tumors, or glioblastomas, and a breast cancer subtype known as triple negative breast cancer.

"Patients with many other types of cancer already have some really excellent treatment options, so we were interested in focusing on some of the kinds of cancer that haven't had as much success with pharmacological development," said Ishmael. "For many brain tumors, for example, there are very few options and the prognosis has remained grim for many years."

The team's experiments in cell cultures, conducted with funding from an American Brain Tumor Association Discovery Grant, showed that coibamide A cuts off the cancer cells' ability to communicate with blood vessels and other cells, eventually starving the cell and triggering its death. In an animal model for glioblastoma in which human tumor cells are grown in a mouse's flank, treatment with coibamide A significantly reduced tumor size. The team's next steps are to test coibamide A in a mouse model for triple negative breast cancer and in a mouse model for brain cancer in which the glioblastoma cells are grown in the brain instead of the flank.

Glioblastomas are particularly difficult to treat because these tumors grow exceptionally quickly and do not respond well to most available chemotherapy drugs. Surgery, followed by radiation treatment, is usually recommended, but it is difficult to remove every last cancer cell and the tumor often rebounds. One challenge in developing drugs to fight brain tumors is that agents must be able to cross the blood-brain barrier, a filtering mechanism that only allows certain types of substances to enter the brain. It is not yet clear whether coibamide A would be able to cross the blood-brain barrier, an aspect the team plans to investigate in the future.

Ishmael said even if coibamide A itself cannot enter the brain or turns out to have adverse side effects, knowing its structure and mechanism of action can help researchers develop new drugs that mimic coibamide A's effects. "So far, there isn't a drug in clinical use or in any clinical trials that works in this way. We're using it to try to reveal a new pathway to trigger cell death in these cancer cells that have traditionally been considered very resistant to cell death," said Ishmael.

Those research efforts recently got a lot easier when collaborators at Japan's Kyoto University developed a method to produce coibamide A synthetically. Previously, Ishmael's team had relied on samples isolated from natural specimens, which could not be grown in the lab and had to be harvested from marine environments. With the new synthetic form of coibamide A now available, the team hopes to move forward quickly toward developing the compound into a nature-inspired cancer drug.

The above is reprinted from materials provided by Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). 

Ancient DNA shows European wipe-out of early Americans

April 1, 2016: University of Adelaide

The first largescale study of ancient DNA from early American people has confirmed the devastating impact of European colonisation on the Indigenous American populations of the time.

Led by the University of Adelaide's Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD), the researchers have reconstructed a genetic history of Indigenous American populations by looking directly into the DNA of 92 pre-Columbian mummies and skeletons, between 500 and 8600 years old.

Published in Science Advances, the study reveals a striking absence of the pre-Columbian genetic lineages in modern Indigenous Americans; showing extinction of these lineages with the arrival of the Spaniards.

"Surprisingly, none of the genetic lineages we found in almost 100 ancient humans were present, or showed evidence of descendants, in today's Indigenous populations," says joint lead author Dr Bastien Llamas, Senior Research Associate with ACAD. "This separation appears to have been established as early as 9000 years ago and was completely unexpected, so we examined many demographic scenarios to try and explain the pattern."

"The only scenario that fit our observations was that shortly after the initial colonisation, populations were established that subsequently stayed geographically isolated from one another, and that a major portion of these populations later became extinct following European contact. This closely matches the historical reports of a major demographic collapse immediately after the Spaniards arrived in the late 1400s."

The research team, which also includes members from the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) and Harvard Medical School, studied maternal genetic lineages by sequencing whole mitochondrial genomes extracted from bone and teeth samples from 92 pre-Columbian--mainly South American--human mummies and skeletons.

The ancient genetic signals also provide a more precise timing of the first people entering the Americas--via the Beringian land bridge that connected Asia and the north-western tip of North America during the last Ice Age.

"Our genetic reconstruction confirms that the first Americans entered around 16,000 years ago via the Pacific coast, skirting around the massive ice sheets that blocked an inland corridor route which only opened much later," says Professor Alan Cooper, Director of ACAD. "They spread southward remarkably swiftly, reaching southern Chile by 14,600 years ago."

"Genetic diversity in these early people from Asia was limited by the small founding populations which were isolated on the Beringian land bridge for around 2400 to 9000 years," says joint lead author Dr Lars Fehren-Schmitz, from UCSC. "It was at the peak of the last Ice Age, when cold deserts and ice sheets blocked human movement, and limited resources would have constrained population size. This long isolation of a small group of people brewed the unique genetic diversity observed in the early Americans."

Dr Wolfgang Haak, formerly at ACAD and now at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, says: "Our study is the first real time genetic record of these key questions regarding the timing and process of the peopling of the Americas. To get an even fuller picture, however, we will need a concerted effort to build a comprehensive dataset from the DNA of people alive today and their pre-Columbian ancestors, to further compare ancient and modern diversity."

Wolfgang Haak et al. Ancient mitochondrial DNA provides high-resolution time scale of the peopling of the Americas. Science Advances, March 2016 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1501385

World's smallest diode created

April 4, 2016

Illustration of the coralyne-intercalated DNA junction used to create a single-molecule diode, which can be used as an active element in future nanoscale circuits. Credit: U. Georgia/Ben-Gurion U.

The world's smallest diode, the size of a single molecule, has been developed collaboratively by U.S. and Israeli researchers from the University of Georgia and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU).

Their study will be published online in Nature Chemistry   on April 4, 2016.

"Creating and characterizing the world's smallest diode is a significant milestone in the development of molecular electronic devices," explains Dr. Yoni Dubi, a researcher in the BGU Department of Chemistry and Ilse Katz Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology. "It gives us new insights into the electronic transport mechanism."

Continuous demand for more computing power is pushing the limitations of present day methods. This need is driving researchers to look for molecules with interesting properties and find ways to establish reliable contacts between molecular components and bulk materials in an electrode, in order to mimic conventional electronic elements at the molecular scale.

An example for such an element is the nanoscale diode (or molecular rectifier), which operates like a valve to facilitate electronic current flow in one direction. A collection of these nanoscale diodes, or molecules, has properties that resemble traditional electronic components such as a wire, transistor or rectifier. The emerging field of single molecule electronics may provide a way to overcome Moore's Law-- the observation that over the history of computing hardware the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years -- beyond the limits of conventional silicon integrated circuits.

Prof. Bingqian Xu's group at the College of Engineering at the University of Georgia took a single DNA molecule constructed from 11 base pairs and connected it to an electronic circuit only a few nanometers in size. When they measured the current through the molecule, it did not show any special behavior. However, when layers of a molecule called "coralyne," were inserted (or intercalated) between layers of DNA, the behavior of the circuit changed drastically. The current jumped to 15 times larger negative vs. positive voltages--a necessary feature for a nano diode. "In summary, we have constructed a molecular rectifier by intercalating specific, small molecules into designed DNA strands," explains Prof. Xu.

Dr. Dubi and his student, Elinor Zerah-Harush, constructed a theoretical model of the DNA molecule inside the electric circuit to better understand the results of the experiment. "The model allowed us to identify the source of the diode-like feature, which originates from breaking spatial symmetry inside the DNA molecule after coralyne is inserted."

Cunlan Guo, Kun Wang, Elinor Zerah-Harush, Joseph Hamill, Bin Wang, Yonatan Dubi, Bingqian Xu. Molecular rectifier composed of DNA with high rectification ratio enabled by intercalation.Nature Chemistry, 2016; DOI: 10.1038/nchem.2480 

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